- Review Price: £1099.00
Back in November we looked at and frankly fell head over heals in love with the Philips 37PF9731D – a set that remains one of the very best LCD TVs we’ve ever clapped eyes on.
But not everyone’s room can accommodate a 37in LCD, and not everyone’s budget can stretch to the 37PF9731D’s £1,600 (minimum) price tag. So we thought we’d also check out the more affordable 32in version, the £1,099 32PF9731D.
This smaller offering is still quite a looker. The glossy black bezel standing proud against a recessed black speaker grille looks great – especially in contrast to the slick silver of the detachable stand.
It also warms our cockles to witness coloured light boldly spilling out of the TV’s left and right sides, cueing us to the presence of Philips’ Ambilight system. Designed to make long-term viewing more relaxing by using fluorescent strip lights to produce a pool of light around the TV that can even change colour in sympathy to the content of the image you’re watching, we know Ambilight sounds gimmicky. But it’s actually backed by hard science, and this reviewer for one loves it. So there.
The smile raised by its aesthetics only grows wider with the 32PF9731D’s astonishingly numerous connections. Twin HDMIs lead the way, receiving solid support from, among other things, component video inputs, Scarts, a D-Sub PC input, digital audio input/output, a CI slot, two USB ports, an Ethernet port, and a multi-format card reader. Clearly some of these jacks warrant closer attention.
The CI slot and digital audio jacks, for instance, alert us to the presence of a digital Freeview tuner. The Ethernet port, meanwhile, means the TV can ‘network’ with your PC, allowing you to stream video and music files from it directly into the TV. File formats accepted are wide-ranging, and include MP3, JPEG, MP3 Pro, LPCM, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, DivX and XviD.
You could also use the Ethernet port with a wireless bridge, though the bandwidth limitations of the current Wi-Fi formats means you’ll probably suffer some break up with video sources.
The USB ports, meanwhile, allow you to stream off the contents of a USB storage device, while the card reader slot lets you play back JPEG images from a digital camera card. In short, Philips has pretty much thought of everything.
The same philosophy carries through to the TV’s enormous features list. We’ve already covered Ambilight and a digital tuner, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s particularly gratifying to find that Philips has retained the services of its new ClearLCD technology for this smaller 9731D model. Designed to tackle those twin LCD ‘troubles’ of motion blur and black levels, ClearLCD worked well on the 37PF9731D so we have no reason to suspect it won’t here.
As briefly as possible, Clear LCD works by boosting the power to the LCD array so the crystals ‘cycle’ through faster, and using an array of hot cathode fluorescent lamps (HCFLs) for its backlight that can be driven in a way that mimics the scanning approach of CRT TVs. You thus don’t have to have the usual LCD situation where all the pixels are lit to the same level at the same time and for the same duration.
The black level benefit comes from the fact that the HCFL backlight system can reduce its brightness by up to 30 per cent more than standard backlights.
The 32PF9731D’s other key picture booster is Pixel Plus 3 HD image processing, which delivers all the sharpness, detail, and colour benefits of previous versions of the technology but throws in some superb extra noise reduction circuitry.
We could waffle on for hours more about other features the 32PF9731D sports, but for space reasons we’ve harshly got to wrap up this section with something the TV doesn’t have that the 37in version does; namely a full HD, 1,920 x 1,080 native resolution.
Happily this doesn’t seem to have a seriously negative impact on picture quality at all. As ever with Pixel Plus TVs, the first thing that hits you – even on a relatively small screen like this – is how amazingly detailed and crisp pictures are. This is of course particularly true for quality HD sources like Sky HD’s stunning showing of The Revenge of the Sith, and sparkling Xbox 360 fodder like Gears of War.
But unusually for LCD it also holds pretty true for standard definition, as Pixel Plus 3 HD goes into overdrive in adding resolution and generally smartening standard def up. Even better, PP3HD’s new noise reduction systems means you get all the customary Pixel Plus benefits with precious few of the usual unpleasant side effects.
Almost as impactful as its sharpness is the 32PF9731D’s colour response. Shades from a gratifyingly wide spectrum blaze off the screen, keeping your attention rapt far more than we’d normally expect with a 32in TV. What’s more, colours are generally likeably natural in tone, with only a very slight plastickiness to some skin tones giving minor cause for concern.
More impressive stuff comes with the TV’s black levels, as the HCFL system helps it produce some of the deepest, richest blacks in LCDsville. Naturally this helps the picture look even more dynamic, as well as making it better than many LCD rivals at handling the extreme contrast ranges of films. There are small traces of backlight seepage in the corners, perhaps, but these are very seldom truly noticeable.
Activating the ClearLCD feature also definitely helps motion look clearer (though at the expense of a slight decrease in overall sharpness, and provided you avoid the really rather weird Digital Natural Motion feature); edges look sharp without ever being over-egged; and the picture just looks generally phenomenally solid and rich.
It is possible to mess up the 32PF9731D’s pictures if you’re not careful with some of the more potent features in the TV’s expansive onscreen menus. But just use a bit of common sense and go with what your eyes tell you, and you should find yourself staring gleefully at possibly the finest 32in LCD pictures in town.
Happily the 32PF9731D also sports a more than decent sound system, albeit not one that stands out from the crowd quite as dramatically as the picture performance.
With its lovely looks, awesome features list, reams of connection options, surprisingly affordable price and above all sensational pictures, this 32PF9731D is about as irresistible as mid-sized LCD TVs get.
Score in detail
Image Quality 10
Sound Quality 8